January 28, 2015 · 9:07 pm
BLOG 237 January 27, 2015
Across the world, Jews and Gentiles paused on Tuesday to observe International Holocaust Remembrance Day and the 70th year date of the liberation of Auschwitz. I have been to both Dachau Concentration Camp and Auschwitz. I know well what these death camps were like.
My visit to Auschwitz came in January. When I stood out on the assembly ground in the freezing weather, I wondered how anyone could have survived these conditions. The Jews who stood there for hours and went to the gas chambers had committed no crime. They had done nothing wrong – they were just Jews.
My books The Pastors Barracks and the Bitter Road to Dachau chronicles the story of Christian Reiger, a Reformed Christian German Pastor, who was sentenced to Dachau for nothing more than speaking out against The Third Reich and the Nazis. From my time spent listening to Christian, I leaned a first hand story of his five year struggle to survive. More than one third of all Polish Roman Catholic priests died in Dachau. By the time he was released, Christian had lost 100 pounds.
Another story comes from Israel. Marta Wise was a 10-year-old Slovakian Jew in Auschwitz when she heard the sound of soldiers marching toward the death camp. Marta assumed they were Germans, but soon saw the red stars on their uniforms that said they were Russians. Only by their intervention was she saved. Marta has a black and white photo taken by the Russians showing her standing with a group of children in their rags behind a barbed wire fence. By the time the picture was taken Marta weighted only 37 pounds.
Marta and her sister Eva survived but they still cannot understand how they did so. Today at age 80, she lives in Jerusalem. The number A-2702 remains tattooed on her arm.
Survivors Max and Rose Schindler, 85-years-old, took an hour and a half bus trip from Krakow to Auschwitz. They said Kaddish and prayed for their murdered loved one who died in the camp. While praying, some survivor cried out, “I don’t want to come here anymore!”
Rose had come for one final visit to remember her parents and four siblings who died there. She remembered that among those who died were gypsies, homosexuals, and others who were caught under the heel of the Nazi boot. Rose reflected that the only ones who could tell the entire story of Auschwitz were silenced by the crematoria. So, she must do her best to relate the story that only a survivor can.
I will never forget walking through the grass in a field behind the crematorium. I looked down and thought the ground seemed strange. When I kicked the grass aside, I realized I was standing on white ash.
Let us remember so that the world will never forget that it may never happen again.
April 30, 2014 · 8:47 pm
In most civilized countries, Monday, April 28, was remembered as Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day. Various events commemorated the 6 million who died at the hands of the Nazis. However, the remembrance is much larger than what happened to the Jewish people. One and a half million Armenians died at the hands of the Turks. The multitudes who died in the killing fields of Asia still haunt the world. The list goes on an on.
This Remebrance is a time to stop and reflect on how precious life is and to commit ourselves to attempting to halt wars and stop the deaths of our young people who walk in harm’s way. Obviously, halting gunfire and assault of artillery is a noble idea beyond our reach, but we can commit ourselves to at least trying to do what we can to improve the contour of a warring world.
Every year fewer Holocaust survivors remain. Most first-hand witnesses are now in their ‘70s at best and most are in their ‘80s. Last year I atended a Holocaust survivors conference and listened to their stories. Individuals shared how after 70 years, they are still panicked by black boots, German Shepherd dogs, the sound of sirens, and the list goes on and on. These survivors remain an important rebuttal to Holocaust deniers who resist the truth for their own political reasons.
An important reversal of events has just occurred in the Holy Land. Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas has recognized the death of the 6 million as “the most heinous crime to have occurred against humanity in the modern era.” His acceptance of these facts is an important step forward.
Abbas had been vilified as a Holocaust denier because in l963 he wrote his doctoral dissertation challenging the number of Jews killed. In l983, the dissertation was published as a book also claiming Zionist had collaborated with the Nazis to send more people to Israel. The result of these works hung the title of anti-Semite around his neck.
Marc Schneier, an American Rabbi, had talked with Abbas for 40 minutes about a number of concerns when the issue of recognizing the Holocaust came up. Abbas immediately recognized the significance of releasing a statement on Holocaust Day and his positive approval was released.
Of course, severe issues remain in what was formerly negotiations between the PA and Israel. After a seven-year hiatus, the PA moved to repair fences with Hamas. This gesture was only another nail in the coffin for resolutions of issues between the PA and Israel. Prime Minister Netanyahu noted that the charter of Hamas is anti-Semitic to the core.
These important issues aside, recognizing the terrifying reality of the Holocaust can help the world to stay focused on the necessity of finding alternatives to the taking of human lives. War has never been an answer for anything except killing. In the Middle East and across the world, let’s continue to find a better way.